- Our Team
- Practice Areas
- The LawMobile
In this article, you will understand the necessary components, as well as events, in order for you to sue after a slip-and-fall accident. We’ll discuss what to do immediately after a slip-and-fall accident, how to determine if you’re able to sue, as well as some of the nuances to suing commercial, private, and public properties.
After receiving my New Jersey and National EMT certification, I worked on a lot of 9-1-1 calls involving slip-and-fall cases. The best course of action to take after a slip-and-fall accident is to either see a doctor immediately or call 9-1-1. Even if you assume that there is no major injury after going through a slip-and-fall accident, it is best to let a professional medical worker determine if there are any underlying injuries may not be apparent. An additional benefit to calling 9-1-1 or visiting a doctor is telling them exactly what happened, so they note it on a medical record. That way, if you decide to pursue legal action, you have documentation of the information related to the accident.
Take photos of what made you fall. It is understandable to forget to take photos with the commotion that a slip-and-fall accident can cause, but it is crucial to obtain visual evidence in a slip-and-fall case. If you are unable to take the photo of the defect, have someone else take them.
When you or a loved one experiences a slip-and-fall accident, you cannot sue simply because you fell. There has to be what is called an actionable defect. An actionable defect means that there was something wrong with the property that caused your fall. For example, an actionable defect can be a broken step, loose railing or banister, or cracked pavement. The actionable defect has to be broken, defective, or faulty. These defects tend to be permanent (unless fixed), which differs from transient defects.
Transient defects are not strictly related to structural defects, but rather tend to come and go. For example, a transient defect can be a puddle of water, ice, blood, oil, or other viscous liquids that can cause a fall. Additionally, transient defects differ from structural defects since they are usually not permanent. A puddle of water can easily be cleaned up within minutes of it being on the property, unlike a broken stair. This makes proving a slip-and-fall accident due to a transient defect more difficult than with a structural defect.
Before you can sue, two things need to happen. First, you must know what caused you or a loved one to fall. If you are not sure why or what made you fall, you will not be likely to prevail.
Once you know what caused the slip-and-fall accident, then you have to determine whether the fall was caused by either a structural or transient defect. When it comes to determining if a transient defect caused the slip-and-fall accident, the defect must have been there for a certain period of time to give proper notice to the property owner. This period of time is meant to give the landowner time to clean up and take care of the transient defect. If someone immediately slips and falls after the presence of the transient defect, they won’t be able to sue as there was not an adequate amount of time for the restaurant to clean up the transient defect. While there is no specific amount of time that a transient defect needs to be cleaned up, a good timeframe to consider is if the transient defect was not attended to after an hour.
The simple answer is yes. As explained above, if there is an actionable defect that caused you to fall, then there is nothing that an owner of a commercial property can do to stop you from suing. This means that you cannot sue a grocery store because you tripped on your shoelace—the commercial property has to have fault for creating the condition that caused the fall.
Some public properties have special contingencies in order for you to sue them. Public schools, for example, require what is called a 90-Day Notice of Claim. A Notice of Claim is a notice provided to a municipality (or any body of government) so that it can investigate the claim early on. It is crucial to have the Notice of Claim filed properly and filed within the 90-day period. If not, you could be precluded from pursuing that claim against the municipality.
If you sue while you’re at work, you have to establish that you were hurt while on-the-job in the course and scope of your employment. If your injury caused you to be out of work, then you would be eligible for what is called workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation means that you are entitled to the salary you lost while you were out due to your injury, as well as your medical expenses. While you typically cannot sue the company you work for after a slip-and-fall, you can sue a third party. If you tripped on a broken step in the office where you work and fell, you would receive workers’ compensation from the company, but you could also sue the owner of the property. If you live in an apartment complex or have a landlord, you can sue them as long as you did not fall on your own personal property—it has to be a defect on the landlord’s property. For example, if you trip over an area rug that you placed in the apartment, the property owner is not at fault.
When it comes to public property, in addition to the special circumstances for certain places as stated above, anyone has the right to sue for a slip-and-fall if there is an actionable defect on the property. However, things change when you slip-and-fall on private property. There are two types of invitees to private property: business invitees and regular invitees. Business invitees are invited to private property for business purposes, and regular invitees are invited as a guest. A private landowner has a higher responsibility with business invitees than regular invitees. No matter the invitee, the land or homeowner of the private property has a certain duty to make sure that their land is safe for any form of an invitee, even trespassers.
Slip-and-fall accidents can be scary when they happen, so it is important to understand how and when you can sue. The bottom line is that any land or homeowner, (including both public and private property) has a certain duty to make sure that their property is safe. Being able to determine and obtain evidence of an actionable defect that causes a slip-and-fall accident can make all the difference if you want to sue. Knowing your rights and ability to sue for a slip-and-fall is something that everyone should be aware of in the unfortunate event it happens.
Lily Mireskandari is a content marketing intern at Ricigliano & Filopei, P.C., as well as a licensed EMT. She is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree at New York University.